Choking Hazard (2004) 1 brain1 brain
(Czech Republic)

According to wikipedia, existential nihilism is the argument that life is without meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. This is the viewpoint held by Verner (Jan Doalsnký), one of the students at a philosophy retreat that gets attacked by zombie woodsmen in Choking Hazard. Unfortunately, it felt to me like that philosophy pervaded the entire film. There was hardly ever any particular urgency to anything, and the characters always find time to stand around and debate things. When the characters are attacked, it seems like we hardly ever see anything other than mildly amused interest. I think director Marek Dobes was trying for a light-hearted feel, since this is a horror comedy, but what he ended up with was the lack of any tension whatsoever.

I liked the basic idea: zombie woodsmen crash a philosophy retreat. I even liked some of the artsy touches, such as some cinema verité, although I think Dobes gets too clever when he uses the fact that the story we're seeing is in a film to impact the events of the film itself, flipping cinema verité back on itself. It's that nihilistic streak coming through, reminding us that what we're seeing isn't real; it doesn't really matter. Maybe Dobes is trying to point out that real life is just a story we see through our own personal cameras, and has no more meaning than a film.

On the other hand, the student Verner seems to be undergoing a transformation in the film. He goes from saying that he's not going to fight the zombies because it doesn't matter to deciding to try to fight them. He still does it with a large amount of emotional detachment, but at least he's fighting, which indicates that on some level he's come to realize that it does matter.

If it seems like I'm focusing a lot on philosophy, it's because the film does too. Not only is a philosophical retreat the setting for the story, the zombie attack itself is incorporated into more philosophical discussions by the characters. I know I always say that in good zombie films, the zombie attack is just the setting for the main story, but in this case the main story just wasn't that interesting to me.

There were still touches that I liked, such as the porn star who shows up at the retreat by mistake, and turns out to be a Jehovah's Witness (Roman Izaiás). The professor running the seminar (Jaroslav Dusek) is also kind of funny as the guy who never, ever stops talking about philosophy. A large part of the humor seemed to depend on the fact that all the zombies were wearing woodsman costumes, which was funny at first, but got old quickly. The rest of the humor was hit or miss for me, coming back to the fact that I just wasn't responding emotionally to the film.

I will say that the film was well made. There were lots of interesting shots, and whether the ideas worked or not, the creativity put into the film was obvious. The effects were great, the sound effects in particular. I think this film was just a little off for me in different ways that combined to a general feeling of dissatisfaction. It's certainly something different, which is more than I can say for some other zombie films, but sometimes that isn't enough.